It wasn’t fun while it lasted.
U.K. Prime Minister Liz Truss, 47, will be shortest-serving U.K. prime minister. The embattled leader leaves her office on Monday, having served only 48 days as premier. Rishi Sunak, 42, the first person of color to lead the U.K., will succeed her.
First, the mistakes. Last month, Truss’s government announced tax cuts of 45 billion pounds ($50 billion) without even saying how the government would pay for them or seeking independent analysis on how they would affect borrowing and debt.
Markets reeled at the news of the mini-budget, the pound
plunged, the Bank of England intervened to stabilize the bond market after sharp increases in bond yields threatened some pension funds, and Truss fired her finance minister.
What led to such a foolhardy decision? Some people can probably relate to the new boss who — through ego, self-will or naïveté — in an effort to prove their worth tries to fix things that weren’t broken, and ends up making existing problems worse.
Another no-no: The manner of her resignation — her explicit lack of accountability and/or reference to the effect of her “mini-budget” on U.K. markets
— may not be the best way to leave a job after crashing and burning so spectacularly.
Truss said she took the job at a time of great uncertainty. “Families and businesses were worried about how to pay their bills. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine threatens the security of our whole continent,” she said.
“It’s good to know when it’s time to go: Arguably, staying in office would be bad for the Conservatives, for the U.K., which does not need a lame duck prime minister, and for Truss herself.”
She tried to put a brave face on a bad situation. “We delivered on energy bills and on cutting national insurance, and we set out a vision for a low-tax, high-growth economy that would take advantage of the freedoms of Brexit,” she added.
U.K. inflation is running at about 10% year-over-year, more than the roughly 8% annual rate in the U.S. Truss was not entirely accurate in her categorization of Brexit — Britain’s exit from the European Union — begetting “freedoms.”
About those freedoms: Recent research by the U.K.-based think tank the Resolution Foundation and the London School of Economics said Brexit delivered a depreciation-driven inflation spike, increasing the cost of living for households.
“Liz Truss was correct to step down,” said Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University. “Once the talk is about when rather than if you resign, the time to resign becomes now so that a new leader can be chosen.”
Truss, of course, was pushed by her party colleagues to quit. “Leadership requires the ability to persuade, corral and move people, and that is incredibly hard if nobody expects you to be around in a few months,” Bloom said.
Bloom measures uncertainty in the U.K., and found that it’s at 10 times the normal level. “The Brexit vote was a decision to leave the EU without any plan about what came next, and without a plan the government lurched from crisis to crisis,” he said.
When it’s time to go
It’s good to know when it’s time to go: Arguably, staying in office would be bad for the Conservatives, given Truss’s low approval rating. The U.K. also does not need a lame-duck prime minister at a time of economic upheaval.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, John Coleman said there are good times to quit your job. Among them: when the roleno longer encourages your growth, and you are actively looking for ways to avoid your job. Both were true of Truss.
On Monday, she was a no-show during parliamentary questions as to why she sacked her finance minister. Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House of Commons, told the opposition: “The prime minister is not under a desk.” Not literally, anyway.
Other signs that it’s time to quit, per Coleman’s guide: You regularly approach work with exhaustion, burnout or dread (see above), and your workplace has become unhealthy (Truss had a 10% approval rating, the worst of any prime minister).
“Don’t look back. Hold no resentments. Let go of any grudges. Don’t send a scorched-earth email. Even if you believe you have burned all of your bridges, you may have one or two left. ”
Coleman said if you develop bad habits, leave. The Guardian likened Truss’s “bad habits” to those of her predecessor, fellow Tory Boris Johnson, citing a “Johnson-like tendency to rush into new policies and be vague or inaccurate with facts.”
So what happens next after quitting? Don’t look back. Hold no resentments. Let go of grudges. Don’t send a scorched-earth email. Even if think you’ve burned all of your bridges, you may have one or two left. Don’t take a match to those.
Remember, you are not your job. Take some time to enjoy the view. If you don’t have a view, enjoy observing the lives of others next door. Life does go on. You don’t have to make hasty decisions about what to do next. Neither does Liz Truss.
“Not all quitting is created equal. If you’ve climbed up high enough, your options often come with a selection of ways of saving face,” said Tessa West, a New York University social-psychology professor and author of “Jerks at Work.”
One of West’s colleagues was recently asked to leave a senior academic position. Her going-away flowers came with a note that said, “We would love to give you the option of controlling the narrative around your exit.” West says, “Who gets that?”
When a new life awaits
Assuming you have cash in the bank, it could be an opportunity to write that book, take a vacation, resume your education, or even take up hobbies that you enjoyed doing before you got caught up in the rat race. Tennis or pickle ball, anyone?
“When you see the writing on the wall, it’s a good idea to get out,” says career counselor Lynn Berger. “It’s all about the added value you’re going to bring to the new role and the accomplishments you’ve had in the past.”
If you do need to get a jump on the next job right away and you were only in your job for a matter of months, Berger recommends leaving it off your résumé. Too many awkward questions to answer. If it’s more than six months, tell the truth.
Erik Bernstein, president at Bernstein Crisis Management, tells people to address the problems upfront when interviewing for another job. He says you should “own” the past problems, and describe how those problems could have been fixed.
Quitting, even in a public manner, is better than “quiet quitting” and remaining in a job you don’t like and believe to be toxic. Quiet quitting — doing as little as possible while getting paid a full wage — is bad karma, and bad for your self-esteem.
“We tend to cling to external causes in situations like this rather than attributing our failures to ourselves, which makes it hard for us to nail down the precise causes of them. And, truth be told, there’s often a confluence of causes,” West says.
“Quitting, even in a public manner, is better than ‘quiet quitting.’ Doing as little as possible while getting paid a full wage is bad karma, and it’s also bad for your self-esteem.”
Truss could have hung on longer, perhaps, hoping to turn her government’s ailing fortunes around. During a hostile Prime Minister’s Question Time on Wednesday, she declared somewhat portentously, “I’m a fighter, not a quitter.”
Quitting, though, is not a dirty word. It’s not an act of failure; it’s an act of empowerment. It tells the world (and you) that you are bigger than your job, you are more than a clockwatcher, and your happiness, health and life come first.
Instead of asking, “Why did I fail?” West recommends asking, “What are my goals for my next job, and what, precisely, will I need to succeed?” And, yes, that could include support like an executive assistant, a good boss and/or a stronger team.
“Sometimes it means having a boss who clearly understands the difference between skills you don’t have but can figure out, and those that you really need hands-on training for,” she adds. “And sometimes it means a clear feedback plan.”
There should come a time when you will be able to laugh at the situation and/or hopefully yourself, and learn some lessons. Anthony Scaramucci’s tenure as then-President Trump’s White House communications director famously lasted 10 days.
: “Liz Truss lasted 4.1 Scaramuccis.” Laughter helps to relieve stress and release tension. An unhappy job + time = comedy. Or, at the very least, it should provide some much-needed perspective.
On Monday, Sunak said: “I’d like to pay tribute to Liz Truss for her dedicated public service to the country. She has led with dignity and grace through a time of great change and under exceptionally difficult circumstances both at home and abroad.”
One key piece of advice for Sunak — or anyone taking up a prominent new role: Communicate your vision, know what you’re getting into, and don’t take colleagues by surprise, as Truss did with her tax-cuts-for-the-rich “mini-budget.”
Take one salient lesson from her short-lived premiership: Always be prepared.